4K UHDTV: Moving from Pause to Pushing Play

By Peter Ostapiuk, Vice President, Media Product Management

With all the fervor around 4K UHDTV following the FIFA World Cup and anticipation of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, we’ve heard a lot of pundits’ views on the future of 4K UHDTV. Those opinions aren’t nearly as interesting, however, as the views of our customers—some of the world’s largest and most successful broadcasters and programmers. So we asked them. What they plan on doing, when and how, and even why they might have some reservations with this new technology.

Today, Intelsat released the results from its Global Survey of Media Executives: 4K UHDTV: Adoption and Business Models which captured the thoughts of the industry’s leading media executives on the state of 4K UHDTV adoption. Not surprisingly, over 80% expected 4K UHDTV to become the de facto norm in the next 10 years. Nearly 63% of those respondents believe that 4K UHDTV will be quickly adopted within the next 5-7 years, and 1 out of 4 of those executives have a firm timeline and rollout in place.

As expected, Asia Pacific and North America are considered early adopters. What was surprising to me was Western Europe’s standing in the survey—especially given recent studies from industry forecasters that placed Western Europe more on par with U.S. adoption. That contradicts with our survey results where only 16% of our customers view Western Europe as an early adopter.

Customers responded that the main hurdles to an accelerated timeline for adoption are content availability; household penetration of UHD televisions; and the adoption of cable-ready 4K UHDTV hardware. As consumer acceptance of 4K UHDTV is a critical and necessary step to widespread adoption, the overall ecosystem needs to make sure that 4KUHDTV is available with high quality and varied options that will help drive further development of cable-ready 4K UHDTV compatible equipment. By doing so, it will allow viewers to receive and enjoy the immersive 4K UHDTV experience and, in the end, hopefully increase the overall subscriber base for media companies.

Separately, what I found most interesting was the fact that technical and non-technical executives were split around the business model where 4K UHDTV will take hold—with technical professionals calling Video on Demand/OTT the first models for adoption expected to take hold and non-technical executives, those closest to the customer, calling for DTH platforms. This is largely due to the inherent conflict that comes with any new offering. Commercial executives want to move to offering linear services in 4K, but technical executives are concerned that they will only be able to launch VOD as they remain unsure that MSOs will be ready to receive the content.

However despite the timing concerns, those same leaders are considering moving forward with 4K UHDTV due to the need to differentiate their offerings and to attract new subscribers/retain subscribers .

In looking at the survey results, I’m not surprised that media executives are more focused on the commercialization aspect of 4K UHDTV. Since we delivered the first live 4K UHDTV demo at IBC in 2013, we and others have already proven that satellite and the broader ecosystem are up to the task technically. As more consumers see this technology and the immersive experience that it provides, it will peak their interest and it is our view that the media and consumer electronic industries know this. 4K UHDTV is coming and all of them want to be prepared.

That being said, we’re also in an era when media technologies are evolving at a rapid clip, with multiple distribution outlets, something that didn’t exist at this level when High Definition first came to market. Media executives now have to contend with linear versus VOD; OTT versus PayTV, etc. This makes the stakes perhaps higher than they’ve ever been as industry leaders build economic models and make bets on what distribution paths are best suited to drive rapid adoption and a return on their investment for 4K UHDTV.

As media executives grapple with these decisions, one thing that’s clear is that satellite is strongly positioned to play a key enabling role from a cost and network flexibility standpoint. If media providers need flexibility across multiple distribution networks, Intelsat, with its global hybrid satellite network is uniquely positioned to deliver wide and spot beam coverage that will help its media customers introduce 4K UHDTV, regardless of distribution platform…and move from pause…to play.

For the full survey, click here.

For an infographic of the results, click here.

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